Monte San Giorgio, located on Lake Lugano on the Swiss-Italian border, harbors countless fossils from the Triassic. The World Heritage has included the Swiss part of the mountain since 2003, and the Italian section was added in 2010.
Monte San Giorgio: facts
|Official title:||Monte San Giorgio|
|Natural monument:||1096 m high, pyramidal, heavily forested mountain; Home to numerous rare plants; Shale layers from the Triassic (245 to 230 million years ago) enclosed in the dolomite rock with over 10,000 fossils, including extremely rare species of marine dinosaurs and fish; Mining of marble; 2010 expanded to include the Italian part of the mountain|
|Location:||Between the southern foothills of Lake Lugano in Ticino|
|Appointment:||2003, extension 2010|
|Meaning:||Exceptional site of well-preserved fossils; richest fossil site from the Triassic period|
Living legacy of prehistoric times
Monte San Giorgio lies between the southern arms of Lake Lugano. According to softwareleverage, the pyramid-shaped mountain is 1096 meters high, a dwarf among the mighty peaks of Switzerland. But it is impressive for another reason: it contains a large variety of fossils that cannot be found anywhere else in Switzerland. The Italian part has also been a World Heritage Site since 2010.
Thousands of petrified fossils from the Middle Triassic have been preserved in the layers of the mountain. They show us which creatures were at home in the sea and on the land back then, and thus give unique insights into a time long before the dawn of mankind. The World Heritage area covers a total of 849 hectares and extends over the municipalities of Meride, Riva San Vitale and Brusino Arsizio. 230 to 240 million years ago there was a sea basin on Monte San Giorgio that was around 100 meters deep and had developed in the subtropical climate prevailing at the time. In this way, petrified fossils of fish and marine reptiles, which were discovered in the various layers of Monte San Giorgio, were preserved there. But fossils of invertebrates, insects and terrestrial reptiles have also been found. Overall, the fossils lie in five superimposed rock layers, so that the development history of marine animals can also be studied on them. Some of these prehistoric testimonies can be admired in the Fossil Museum in Meride, and many of the interesting finds are also on display in the paleontological museums of Zurich, Lugano and Milan.
From the middle of the 19th century, thousands of fossils, mainly of marine dinosaurs and fish, were discovered on Monte San Giorgio. These included many rare or even unique species. Among other things, the Mixosaurus, the Ceresiosaurus and the Ticinosuchus were found, a predecessor of the crocodiles. Fossilized skeletons of fish and insects have also been excavated there. The fossils are in an exceptional condition: many of them are complete and well preserved and clearly show us what these primeval creatures looked like. The fact that the finds are so well preserved can be attributed to calm deposition conditions and low-oxygen conditions. A total of 10,000 specimens were discovered on Monte San Giorgio, including 80 species of fish, 30 species of reptiles, around 100 species of invertebrates and numerous microfossils that can only be seen with a light microscope. And the search for fossils is still going on.
After death, the body of a person or animal decays and disintegrates. However, special circumstances can now cause this process to be stopped and a body – or at least individual components – to be preserved. In the ideal case, an organism is embedded in a substrate immediately after death, which protects it from the supply of air. Such substrates can be, for example, mud, clay, sand, morass or ice. The lack of air supply prevents the body from decomposing. Now the earth’s crust must no longer change so that the fossil is not destroyed. In the exceptionally well-preserved fossils, such as those found on Monte San Giorgio, mainly hard parts such as bones, teeth, shells or armor parts, wood or seeds in the case of plants, have been preserved.
Not only in prehistoric times was there lively life on Monte San Giorgio, even today many rare creatures are at home on this mountain in Ticino. More than 550 different types of fungus are at home there, and three types of spiders have been discovered and scientifically described for the first time. Numerous rare plant species have also settled in this mountain region.
At about 600 meters above sea level, on the road to Serpiano, at the first group of houses after Meride, a hiking trail and nature trail begins, which aims to bring visitors closer to the flora and fauna as well as the special geological formations of Monte San Giorgio. In total, you have to have around four hours to walk this instructive, seven-kilometer trail. On the way, eleven explanatory boards provide information about the special features of the mountain region.
Lake Lugano is a branched alpine lake that belongs partly to Switzerland and partly to Italy. It covers an area of 49 km² and reaches a depth of up to 288 meters. There are numerous popular health resorts and seaside resorts on its banks, including Lugano and Melide. In the latter, a dam leads over the lake, on which the St. Gotthard Railway and the motorway cross the water. Other panoramic mountains over the lake include Monte Brè (925 m) and Monte Generoso (1701 m). Conversely, the surrounding mountain peaks are particularly impressive on a tour of the lake.